Catherine Shook, 17, is one of several students involved in the Exchange Place's Junior Apprentice program.
KINGSPORT — Catherine Shook usually draws a bit of attention when she volunteers during public events at the Exchange Place Living History Farm in Kingsport. The 17-year-old can be found in the blacksmith shop, working alongside Will Vogt, from Graysburg Forge in Limestone, demonstrating how items like horseshoes, wagon wheels and simple tools were crafted before the Industrial Revolution.
Shook, a homeschool student, is one of 18 students ages 12 to 18 involved in Exchange Place’s Junior Apprentice (JA) program, a new program for middle and high schoolers interested in combining their love of history with community service.
While many of the female junior apprentices choose to work in the kitchen or with the farm animals, it was Shook’s decision to volunteer in the blacksmith shop. She’s made knives, arrowheads, a lantern holder and a utensil rack.
The JA program, started earlier this year, grew out of Exchange Place’s Heritage Day Camp program, which was funded by a grant from the Kingsport Community Foundation. Exchange Place volunteer Heather Gilreath saw a need for young help on the farm, both as a way to get much needed work accomplished and as a way of ensuring the site’s future.
“We need kids here. We need insurance for the future. They’re history buffs and looking for ways to get involved outside school,” Gilreath explained.
The apprentices learn about local history, heritage crafts and historic agriculture; showcase their skills at festivals and events; and assist with daily maintenance and special projects at the site, including gardening and tending the animals. Each apprentice term lasts for a year, and apprentices may renew their service contracts and stay in the program until they graduate from high school.
Faith DeMotts, a 14-year-old Dobyns-Bennett High School student, is a history buff who volunteers in the kitchen along with Bethany Jones, a 15-year-old from Providence Academy. These girls, Gilreath said, will learn more complex cooking skills as they get older.
Alissa Grisenti, an 11-year-old homeschooler, attended Exchange Place events before getting involved in the apprentice program. Now, she’s also found in the kitchen, washing vegetables and hauling water.
“I really like chasing the chickens,” she said.
Jake Selby, a 16-year-old Sullivan South High School student, has been involved with Exchange Place for years, volunteering alongside his dad. His primary job now is splitting wood, and during Saturday’s Christmas in the Country event, he will “split and haul wood like crazy” to keep the various fires burning.
Sisters Katie and Amanda Vogel, both 13 and students at Robinson Middle School, and 10-year-old Laney Vogel, a fourth-grader at John Adams Elementary, recently moved to the Exchange Place neighborhood. Their volunteer work centers around the farm animals: two cats, two pigs, five horses and some roosters.
“Sometimes we’ll herd them (the roosters) into the garden and into their pen,” Laney said.
“Sometimes on Saturday we’ll feed the horses and ride them,” Amanda added.
The junior apprentices meet once a month under Gilreath’s guidance. At the meetings, apprentices learn a specific skill to showcase at festivals and educational programs. In September, for instance, they learned how to turn dried gourds into dippers, bowls and birdhouses, and then set up a gourd crafting station at the Fall Festival.
“We’ll probably do something related to African-American history in February, like the Underground Railroad,” Gilreath said. “We try to do an activity that would have traditionally been done on the farm during that month. There are several projects they can get involved in.”
Gilreath hopes to take field trips with the apprentices to other historic sites like Old Salem, in Winston-Salem, N.C., and The Museum of Frontier Culture in Staunton, Va.
There are no openings for junior apprentices for 2014, Gilreath said. Once an apprentices ages out at 18, he or she can continue to volunteer at the site as an adult.
For more information about the Junior Apprentice program, call Gilreath at 753-2717.